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By Hugh Boag
The repaired MV Caledonian Isles was back in service today (Friday) following repairs to her port main engine were completed four days ahead of schedule.
The full summer timetable will now be running this weekend giving Arran two ferries on the main Ardrossan to Brodick route, although the MV Isle of Arran sailings to Campbeltown will also resume.
CalMac managing director Robbie Drummond said: ‘This has been an extremely difficult time for islanders and for those visiting Arran and I am sorry for the disruption the loss of MV Caledonian Isles has caused.
‘Engineers worked on a 24-hour rota to repair MV Caledonian Isles, which had to be taken off the Ardrossan-Brodick route on 17 April when the port main engine developed a technical fault. The original estimated return to service date was 3 May, but it will now be back in service on 29 April.
“We are extremely thankful to see the return of MV Caledonian Isles four days earlier than expected, and I am very grateful to the CalMac team who worked tirelessly with the team at Dales in Troon and MAN Energy Solutions UK to ensure that repairs were completed ahead of schedule.’
It brings a welcome relief to Arran residents and businesses who have seen serious disruption on the Ardrossan and Brodick ferry since the Caley Isles broke down on Easter Sunday,
Since then the 38-year-old MV Isle of Arran has been operating the route on a first come, first served basis after all attempts to secure a second ferry, or extra tonnage, failed. Covid absences were also blamed for the lack of crew to provide a freight-only service.
With all ferry bookings cancelled businesses have seen a shortage of supplies, including petrol, the tourist trade has been hit as visitors have given up on bookings and there has been widespread disruption to the lives of islanders.
Easter is reported to have been quiet and there is serious concern that the widespread disruption, coupled by the negative national publicity, could hit future tourism business.
To help the situation CalMac has redeployed the MV Loch Riddon from Largs to operate a shuttle service, as and when required, in addition to the MV Catriona on the Lochranza to Claonaig route, but there are reports it is not being widely used.
Many meetings have taken place over the last week at the behest of the Isle of Arran Ferry Committee which has spent tireless hours trying to help.
The meetings have involved not just CalMac but gone all the way to involving Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth MSP, Transport Scotland and other government advisors.
One of the options the ferry committee had been pressing for was back-up from the MV Isle of Lewis, but she developed a technical fault to make this impossible. A second vessel considered was ruled out.
The major failure of one of the ferry’s engines turned out to be much worse than first expected and has led to the port engine requiring to be comprehensively rebuilt to extract debris.
Due to the nature of the failure, the starboard engine also required to be stripped and inspected with specialist engineers brought in to carry out the work.
Meanwhile, the need to turn up and wait at Brodick ferry terminal has also led to regular long queues of traffic on the shorefront leading to impatient drivers crossing on to the wrong side of the road to get through.
Many take a detour the wrong way round the keep left sign at the ferry terminal road end leading to concern at Arran Community Council that it was ‘an accident waiting to happen’.
CalMac has had plans for some time to move the check-in booth forward in the marshalling area to help alleviate this and chairman Bill Calderwood reported that the money had now been finalised to do this.
Sergeant Kevin Blackley, attending the meeting, was asked if the police could help. He said that while the roads were the responsibility of North Ayrshire Council he offered to speak to the port manager to see if anything could be done.
Mr Calderwood said: ‘I think we need a longer term solution to make more off-road space.’